This story takes place in late spring/early summer in the year following the comet, so roughly 7-8 months post-finale.
I wrote this story after having read a lot of Kataang fic as I explore the ATLA fandom. I wrote it with a couple of rules in mind:
I wrote this story after having read a lot of Kataang fic as I explore the ATLA fandom. I wrote it with a couple of rules in mind:
1. No Big Plotting. There's nothing wrong with Big New Evils and that perennial favorite, Post-War Politicking, I just didn't want to write about them. So this story takes place in Happy Fun Post-War Avatarland, where we all pretend things mostly turned out okay.
2. No panicking about ages. It's a common thing, I've observed, for writers to have varying levels of discomfort with writing romance involving our teenaged ATLA characters. Me, I'm pretty easygoing about that. So this story rather matter-of-factly presents our couples as having a physical relationship. Probably no lemons, though.
Like most Waterbenders, Katara was a night person. She craved the moonlight and the stars. While the rest of her tribe cursed the long darkness of South Pole winters, she reveled in them and always had. It was the neverending daylight of the summers that made her crazy.
Unfortunately, most of her companions seemed to be morning people. Suki was always the first one up, usually rising while it was still dark to go through her punishing schedule of calisthenics and exercises. Toph could never sleep once the others began to move around. Aang was inevitably up with the sun, although he was always careful not to wake her when he got out of bed. Katara usually managed to roust herself before the sun got too high in the sky, but Sokka always had to be dragged from slumber. Maybe it ran in the family.
She stretched and looked at the shadows on the wall, telling her the morning was well underway. She winced at the pain in her injured leg, sharper now after a night's inactivity. Two days ago she had broken her shin in a fall sustained during a skirmish with some highwaymen on the road to Shangtze. She'd been able to heal it partially, but bones always had to finish the job on their own. She'd be confined to "restricted duty," as Suki called it, for at least a week. It was aggravating, not only due to the handicap but because Sokka and Aang were at each other's throats because of it. Sokka blamed Aang for letting her get hurt and Aang was angry at Sokka for bowing out of the trip at the last minute. It didn't help that they were both tripping over each other to wait on her, which she didn't need.
But today, she would have peace. Everyone had tasks that would take them away from home. Sokka was going with Suki while she conducted some drills for the new Kyoshi Warrior training school at the palace. Toph was doing a master's course at the local Earthbending academy. Zuko was in town and he and Aang were being dragged along on some kind of day-long nature retreat with the Earth King and some of his advisors. She had been invited too, but her injury precluded her from participating, which was almost enough to make her bless the highwaymen. So today she would be blissfully alone and undisturbed. Maybe she could finally write a letter to Gran-Gran.
She washed her face and got dressed, then wandered into the hallway. She could hear the sounds of bending coming from the garden; she went out onto the verandah to see what was going on. The garden had been one of this house's best features for a group of people who needed space to fling water, earth and fire around. It was huge and spacious, and not overly landscaped. Katara folded her arms on the railing and looked down to where Zuko and Toph were tag-teaming Aang. She could tell by their faces that they were having to pull out all the stops, and it didn't seem like they were getting very far against him.
She loved watching him fight. The part of her that was his Sifu watched with pride at how far he'd come, especially when he used the Waterbending that she'd taught him herself. The part of her that had listened to stories about the Avatar as a child watched with admiration of his skill and the natural ability that he brought to his combat. And then there was the part of her that was just a girl in love, who watched with appreciation of how he looked doing complex bending moves without a shirt on. She watched Aang blow one of Zuko's fireballs into nothingness with one hand while blocking an incoming boulder with the other. He slid one foot over and the ground beneath Toph's feet heaved and turned her around, then he flipped himself in a neat arc over Zuko's head, landed and spun in a low, tight circle, knocking both his opponents off their feet with a blast of air. "Ha!" he cried, pumping both fists over his head.
She wasn't surprised that he could beat Zuko and Toph at the same time. Since the war, Aang had been able to refocus on mastering his elements, and in six months he'd made astonishing progress. It would not be long until even all three of his masters working together would not be able to best him. Considering that he was still two years shy of the age at which most Avatars began their training, Katara couldn't disagree with those who were already saying that Aang would be the most powerful Avatar the world had ever seen.
She sighed, the weight of that truth feeling a little ponderous, as it sometimes did. Yep. Most powerful Avatar in history. Already stopped a war. Demonstrated a previously-unknown type of bending. Has a soul unbendable enough that he was able to bow Ozai to his will. And I'm his girlfriend. Nope, no pressure.
"Oh, man," Toph groaned from the ground. Katara could tell by the state of her clothes that this wasn't the first time she'd been down there today. "I say we hire some guys for him to fight from now on."
Zuko was hauling himself to his feet. "Fine by me. Maybe we could get some convicted felons or something."
"If it means fewer bruises, I'm all for it."
"C'mon, don't quit on me now, Sifus!" Aang said, bounding back to the center of the courtyard. "I wanna show you my new water spear move."
"Can you show us without acquainting us with the business end of this water spear?" Zuko said, not sounding too hopeful.
"Anyway, if it's a waterbending move, you should show Katara. I don't care about your splashy fun," Toph said.
"I don't want to show her until I've got it perfected."
"Trying to impress your girlfriend?" Zuko smirked.
Toph snorted. "When is he not?"
Katara grinned. She turned and left the verandah before she was spotted. If Aang was working on a new move to show her, she didn't want to spoil it for him by seeing it before he was ready.
Sokka was in the kitchen, eating breakfast. "I'm actually up before you?" he said, around a mouthful of bean porridge. "What is this, a holiday or something?"
"I've been up for half an hour or so." She limped over to the table, wincing. Sokka was up and around the table to pull out a stool for her, hovering anxiously.
"How's that leg?"
"Better. It'll be fine in a few days, Sokka, relax."
"I'll relax when you're not limping." He sat back down and crossed his arms over his chest, eyeing her with one eyebrow arched. "Did you write Dad and tell him that you got hurt?"
"Why would I? It's not like he can do anything. And I'm fine!"
"Maybe I oughta just mention that in my next letter. Right after I mention the little tidbit that you and Aang are sharing a bedroom."
"He knows about that!"
"Uh-huh. Because you told him? Or because you're just pretending like he must already know so that way you don't have to feel guilty about hiding it?"
Katara blushed and looked away. "Well..."
"Yeah, that's what I thought."
"You and Suki share a bedroom!"
"Why is it different? No, I'll tell you why!" she exclaimed. "Because you're a boy and I'm a girl. You're supposed to go out and...I dunno, sow your wild oats or something, while I'm supposed to sit in a corner like a china doll!"
"I'm older than you."
"One lousy year. I don't see you bugging Aang about it and he's younger than me."
"Yeah, but he's..."
"A guy, yeah, I know. I am so sick of this double standard. You know, in rural Earth Kingdom villages it's pretty common for girls my age to be married and raising families."
Sokka's eyes widened. "You...you're not..."
She rolled her eyes. "No, Sokka. Calm down. I won't get pregnant until I want to. One of the advantages of healing abilities."
"Oh," he said, seeming relieved. "Well, that's...good, I guess."
Zuko, Toph and Aang came into the kitchen. Aang looked bright-eyed and excited, while his two bending masters looked a little worse for wear. Katara grinned. "Morning," she said.
His face lit up at the sight of her. "Good morning," he said. He came over to her side and kissed her temple, his hand going to the small of her back. "How's your leg, is it better today?" He looked down at the limb in question, as if he could tell its state of healing just by visual inspection.
"It's better. A little stiff."
He frowned a little. "Just be careful, okay? You don't want to hurt it again."
"Hey, isn't hovering and clucking usually my job?"
"I'm happy to fill in when needed."
"You seem energetic this morning."
"I feel energetic," he said, the grin back on his face.
Zuko sat down, clutching a cup of tea like a life preserver. "I hope some of that energy rubs off on me. We're going to need all the pep we can muster if we're going to get through this thing today."
Aang deflated a little bit. "Yeah. Not looking forward to it."
"What exactly does the Earth King have planned?" Sokka asked.
Zuko shrugged. "I didn't ask too many questions. Some kind of nature retreat bonding thing where we sit around a campfire and have deep meaningful discussions about the future or something like that. You know how he's been since he got back from his whole odyssey of self-discovery. It's going to be torture."
"Huh. Will you be covering how to let my sister get beat up by highwaymen?"
"We sure will," Aang snapped, "right after we cover how to stay at home so your friends are outnumbered two to eleven."
"And will that be before or after the lesson in how to overlook the guy in the tree swooping down to grab unsuspecting women off the path?"
"It'll be right after the seminar on how to beg off important diplomatic missions so you can make out with your girlfriend all day!" Aang shouted, rising to his feet.
Katara jumped up and put up her hands between them, cutting off Sokka before he could retort. "Stop it, both of you! For the last time, it is no one's fault! Aang, Sokka had a legitimate reason for skipping the trip to Shangtze. Sokka, Aang could not have seen the guy in the tree, he was fighting off six others, and I should have been more careful. And I'm fine. But if you don't stop this stupid bickering I will knock both your heads together!"
Aang turned on his heel. "I'm going to go take a bath." He stalked out of the room.
"I'm going to go get Suki's weapons together," Sokka said, stomping off in the other direction.
Katara sighed and flopped back down in her seat. "Men," she muttered.
Toph shrugged. "Love makes you do the wacky." Katara and Zuko just looked at her. "I heard that somewhere," she explained. "They'll get over it, sweetness. You know they're just being jerks to each other because they're both blaming themselves that you got hurt."
"I know," she said, resting her chin on her hand. She refocused herself and got up, needing a task to occupy her mind. "Tell you what, I am going to pack lunches for all of you."
Zuko frowned. "You don't have to do that."
"I'd do it for Aang anyway so he has something besides lettuce, and for Toph because if I don't, she'll forget to eat."
"Yeah, I totally will," Toph agreed.
"Two lunches or five, it's the same. You hate Earth Kingdom food, Zuko."
"Well...thanks," Zuko said. "That's nice of you." He smiled and shook his head, meeting her eyes.
She chuckled. "Yeah, I know."
Toph was frowning. "What? I missed something."
"No, it's just another one of those moments," Zuko said. "When we kind of go, once upon a time I wanted to capture you all, and now she's making me lunch."
"We've had so many of those moments we don't need to say it anymore," Katara said, getting out some sacks to hold everyone's lunch. "But don't get too comfy, Zuko. I could still poison your bean curd puffs. Don't piss me off."
"Wouldn't dream of it. Hey, can I have some seal jerky in mine?"
Katara stared at him. "Since when do you like seal jerky?"
He shrugged, looking a little embarrassed. "I guess I've kind of picked up a taste for it."
She laughed. "I don't suppose Sokka will mind if I dip into his stash."
When Katara came into their bedroom, Aang was standing at the closet with a towel wrapped around his waist, frowning. "What's wrong?" she asked.
"I suppose I ought to wear the Big Important Avatar Robes today," he muttered.
"It's a million degrees out and there's going to be campfires. I'm going to end up as Roast Avatar, medium rare."
"Oh, don't sell yourself short. You're extremely rare." She stuck out her leg. "Do my bandage?"
He nodded and motioned her to the bed. She sat down and extended her injured leg. Aang picked up the ingenious bandage Sokka had designed. It was a hollow tube made of cloth and sealed with resin to be airtight. Aang fit it over her lower leg, then bent air into it to pressurize it, making it stiff to stabilize her healing bones. He slid his fingers over the opening, sealing it shut with firebending. He looked at her, massaging her instep. "I hate that you need this," he murmured.
"It'll be good as new in a few days," she said, skimming her fingers down his cheek.
He grasped her hand, turned his head and kissed her palm, then got up and went back to the closet. "Do you think everyone will be horribly offended if I wear regular clothes?"
"Well, it isn't a big ceremonial thing, is it? More like...camping? No one wears their best clothes camping."
"I should see what Zuko's wearing." Katara busted out laughing. He looked at her, annoyed. "What's so funny?"
"You are. You sound like a schoolgirl checking with her friends to make sure she doesn't make a fashion mistake."
"Well! I don't know!" He threw his arms up, then stalked to the door, yanked it open and stuck his head out. "Hey, Zuko!" he shouted.
"What?" she heard Zuko yell from down the hall.
"Are you wearing your Firelord robes?"
"Are you kidding me? It's blazing hot outside and there'll be campfires! I'm wearing as little as I can get away with!"
"All right, then!" Aang said, pulling back in and shutting the door again. Katara was still giggling a little. "It's not funny," he mumbled, taking out his normal clothes.
"I'm sorry," she said. "You're cute when you freak out over protocol."
He blushed. "Aw, you're just saying that."
She reached up and wiped a smear of shaving soap off the side of his head. "Missed a spot."
"Dang it," he said, lifting his hand to the small patch of stubble. He went into the attached bathroom. Katara leaned in the doorway and watched as he quickly swiped his razor over the spot he'd missed.
"Are you nervous about this?" she asked. "You're kind of squirrelly all of a sudden."
He shrugged. "Not really. I just don't know what to expect. And I'd rather not be away from home just now."
"Why?" He met her eyes in the mirror but didn't answer. Katara suddenly realized what he meant. "Oh, no. Don't tell me you think you need to hang around here for my sake!"
"You're injured! I feel weird leaving you alone!"
"I can take care of myself," she said tightly, irritation rising in her chest. "And Iroh is right next door if I need help. I'm not stupid, Aang. I'm not going to risk making it worse by overextending myself."
Aang looked relieved. "I'm glad to hear you say that."
Katara could see through him to what lay behind his concern. She went to him and ran her hands up and over his shoulders, still a little damp from the bath. "Aang, it wasn't your fault."
He stared at the ground, shaking his head a little. "I should have seen him going for you. I should have caught you before you hit the ground."
"Hey." He looked up and met her eyes. "Don't do that to me."
"Turn me into some helpless, fragile thing. That's what you do when you act like it's your fault. I'm hurt because we're in a dangerous line of work and that happens. When you say you should have stopped it, you know how that makes me feel?"
"Like I'm less. Less than you."
His eyes widened in alarm. His hands rose to grip her upper arms. "You're not! You're more! You're so amazing, Katara...you're everything!"
"Then shut up about protecting me."
He sighed and shut his eyes, nodding. "All right, I get what you mean. It's just hard."
Katara pulled him into her arms and hugged him. "You get it from all sides, Aang. How you're the Avatar and you have to protect the whole world, keep everyone safe. Let me be the one thing you don't have to protect. I want to stand beside you, not in your shadow."
He squeezed her tight for a moment, then pulled back far enough to look into her eyes again. "I love you. So much," he whispered.
"I know," she whispered back. She placed a quick, gentle kiss on his lips, then took a step back. "But you better get ready, the carriage is coming for you guys any minute."
He went to the bed where his clothes lay in a heap, unwinding his towel. "Maybe I ought to break my leg," he said. "At least I'd have an excuse not to go to this stupid nature hike." He glanced back at her. "What?"
"Oh, nothing. Just enjoying the view," Katara said. They'd gotten over any discomfort over seeing each other naked awhile ago, although Aang still blushed adorably when she commented on it.
As he did now, turning red and throwing the towel at her. "Ha ha."
Sokka and Suki were gone already when Katara made it back downstairs. The master of the dojo where Toph was teaching her master class was waiting in the foyer to escort her there. He was fidgeting and anxious. "I've heard she's...demanding," he said to Katara.
"That's one way of putting it." She gave him what she hoped was a reassuring smile. "Your students will learn a great deal."
"I've got my most advanced students waiting. It's not every day they have the chance to learn from the master who taught the Avatar."
As if the utterance of his title had summoned him, Aang burst out of the hallway door and stomped across the foyer. "Katara, have you seen my glider?" He skidded to a halt when he saw the stranger standing there. "Oh. Uh...hi."
"Aang, this is Master Chung. Toph is teaching at his dojo today."
"Oh, right. Nice to meet you." Aang bowed politely.
Chung just stood there with his mouth hanging open. "I...uh...the...you're the Avatar!"
Aang smiled neutrally. He was accustomed to this reaction. "So they keep telling me."
Chung seemed to remember himself and bowed low. "It's an honor to meet you, Avatar Aang. I didn't know you'd be here."
"I live here."
"But...of course, my apologies..."
"Hey, relax," Aang said, patting his shoulder. "You don't have to bow and scrape for me. I'm a regular guy."
Chung looked dubious. "The Avatar, master of all elements, is far from a...regular guy," he said.
"Don't flatter him," Toph said, coming into the foyer. "If his head gets any bigger we'll be able to fly him down the street like a balloon."
"Master Toph," Chung said, bowing. "My students and I are humbly grateful for your..."
"Yeah, yeah. Let's go, I want to see what your students are made of!"
Katara handed her the knapsack with her lunch in it. "Toph..."
"Don't tell me to go easy on them," Toph said, quietly.
Katara smiled. "I was going to tell you to make them all cry like babies."
Toph punched her arm. "That's what I'm talking about. See ya, Twinkle Toes." She waved at them as Chung followed her outside, still bowing and trying to get in his "we're honored and grateful" speech as she talked over the top of his words.
"Now, what are you looking for?" Katara said, turning back to Aang.
"It's right there," she said, pointing to the staff, leaning against the doorframe where it always was.
"No, the other one. The new one."
"Oh. I haven't seen it since you were showing it to Sokka."
Aang looked up, light dawning on his face. "I bet I left it on the balcony!" He zoomed off, the breeze ruffling Zuko's clothes as he came out of the hallway.
"Sometimes being around him makes me feel about a million years old," he muttered, sitting down on the hall bench to put on his boots.
Zuko looked up at her. "What?"
"He makes me feel like I'll be young forever." She handed Zuko a knapsack. "Seal jerky's in there."
He grinned. "Thanks."
"So what are you going to do all day, with the house to yourself?"
"Oh, I don't know. Write to my grandmother, maybe. Walk to the park."
"Take it easy on that leg."
"Don't you start. I've got Sokka and Aang obsessing over it, I don't need you piling on, too."
"Hey, I have total confidence in your healing ability. Saved my life once, remember?"
Katara sighed. "How could I forget?"
Zuko looked off into the distance. "The other day Aang made some comment about us being scar twins."
"We have matching lightning scars from Azula. Me on my chest, him on his back."
Katara looked at her hands. "He has two."
"Lightning scars from Azula. One on his back, one on the bottom of his foot. Her lightning only struck you. It went all the way through him. That's why you didn't..." She stopped short.
"Why I didn't die, and he did," Zuko murmured.
Katara turned her face away, not wanting Zuko to see how it affected her still just to think of that horrible night. She'd worked very hard to banish her anger at him for the part he'd played. It had been made easier knowing how much he regretted it, and how it tormented him, but sometimes...sometimes it was still hard. There was just no getting around the fact that Zuko's actions, regretted or not, had come very close to costing Aang his life.
Aang came trotting back into the foyer, his new, larger glider in his hand. It had been a gift from Teo for Aang's fourteenth birthday a few weeks ago. "All right, let's get this..." He stopped, seeing their somber faces. "What's going on?" Katara jumped up and threw her arms around him. Aang's free arm came around her at once. "Hey...what's wrong?"
"Nothing," she said. "I'm just glad you're alive."
"I'm pretty glad about that myself. What were you guys talking about?" he said. Katara pulled back. Aang was frowning at Zuko over her shoulder.
"It's nothing, don't worry about it." She smiled and wiped at her eyes. "Just ancient history."
He looked skeptical, but nodded. "If you say so."
There was a knock at the door. Zuko stood up. "That must be our ride," he said, sounding resigned.
Katara shook off her melancholia. "Play nice with the other kids," she said, mustering some cheerfulness.
"No promises," Zuko muttered. "If he makes me listen to what Bosco thinks of my ideas I can't be held responsible for my actions." He went out the door to the front drive, leaving Katara alone with Aang.
"You sure you're okay?" Aang said again, watching her face with concern on his own.
She nodded, reaching out to straighten his tunic. "Zuko said something about your scars, from Azula. I don't like to remember that night."
Understanding came into Aang's face. "Yeah. Me, neither."
She took a deep breath. "Then let's not remember it." She pulled him close and kissed him, long and deep. She heard his glider fall to the floor with a clatter and then he had both arms wrapped around her, returning her kiss with gusto. Katara could shut her eyes and be right back to the moment they'd first shared a real kiss, on the balcony outside Iroh's tea shop, and feel again the elation and relief and the sheer joy of that moment, and the happy discovery that when he wasn't wracked with anxiety, Aang was a really good kisser. That felt like ages ago (although it was less than a year, in fact) and she'd yet to get a bad kiss from him.
He pulled back, smiling a dopey little smile. "You sure know how to make a guy not want to leave the house."
"But you have to."
He made a face. "Yeah, I have to." He picked up his glider. "So have a good day, uh...honey." He blushed bright red.
Katara's eyebrows shot up. "Honey?"
"No good?" he asked, scrunching up his nose.
"We've never called each other stuff like that."
"I know. I guess I thought...I ought to come up with something to call you."
"And what's wrong with 'Katara?' I call you 'Aang,' don't I?"
He shuffled his feet. "You called me 'baby' once."
"I did not! When did I ever do that?"
Aang flushed even redder. "Well, you might not remember. We were...you know. And you were about to...uh..."
"Oh," Katara said, her flush matching his. "I don't think I can be held responsible for whatever I might say in that...circumstance."
He sighed. "Too bad, cause you also said I was a god." His eyes twinkled with mischief.
"Oh, get out of here, you insufferable monster!" she exclaimed, laughing. Aang danced out of reach, grabbing the knapsack containing his lunch and darting out the door.
"See ya!" he tossed back, fleeing the house.
Katara stood there in the foyer, finally alone, shaking her head.